Food and drink Voices: How can we future-proof food and drink in Scotland?

As The Scotsman prepares for its annual Food & Drink Conference, we asked leading figures in in the sector for their thoughts on its theme, Beyond Brexit: Future-proofing food and drink in Scotland.

Claire Pollock, partner, Ardross Farm Shop

I think education is key to future-proofing food and drink in Scotland. People eat and drink each and every day – but do they really know what they are eating or drinking or why they are eating and drinking?

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As a country we have one of the highest animal welfare standards in the world but do people know where their food is coming from?

Do they know why a sirloin steak from our farm shop may be completely different nutritionally from another one they may pick up for the same price?

We are extremely lucky in Scotland, and I am even luckier in Fife to have such a vast array of fantastic food producers on my doorstep, but I think education would really be the key to appreciating them.

On a personal level this includes taking our staff around the farm to see us working with the cattle and sheep and how we grow our vegetables. It includes supplier visits to show how products are made, it include us helping customer with cooking instructions and giving them information about new products.

On another note, I think for Scotland as a whole that it is crazy that we haven’t ensured that Scotch whisky can only be made by Scottish grain and Scottish water and in Scotland.

I think this would provide a massive lift across not only agriculture but all other sectors in Scotland.

We have seen it done in many other situations and with many other food and drinks, so why can’t we protect what is a Scottish product and reap the rewards as a country by doing so?

Eric Galbraith, head of food and drink, Brodies

In the food and drink sector, recent incidents have highlighted the significant financial and reputational damage that can arise from the breakdown of supply chains.

A prime example is the shortage of carbon dioxide that resulted in some drink manufacturers rationing supplies to retailers and the temporary closure of a Scottish pig abattoir which relied on carbon dioxide to stun the animals before slaughter.

To future-proof the industry, robust written contractual agreements are essential to ensure that all parties understand their collective roles and responsibilities as well as potential liability exposure if things go wrong.

For instance, supply contracts should deal with responsibility for delivery failures, defective goods, and product recalls.

Reputational damage can be substantial and businesses should carefully consider the scope of appropriate indemnity protection to ensure that any potential loss can be quantifiable.

Businesses should also consider imposing a contractual obligation on suppliers to obtain insurance to cover financial losses arising from food safety or supply chain issues.

Lynne Gray, director, Burness Paull

Burness Paull’s clients cover all aspects of the food and drink sector, from all parts of Scotland.

As the sector goes from strength to strength they are facing an exciting, if challenging, period. The best way to future- proof anything is to be prepared and ready to adapt.

We are listening and helping clients prepare for the challenges ahead, whether Brexit, employment, succession planning, tech advances or coping with the ever-changing complex compliance and regulatory landscape.

With the increased importance of provenance, quality and origin of 
products are key, alongside compliance and management of brand and reputation 
– even more so with increasing punishment for regulatory breaches which could literally make or break small companies.

While nothing can ever be future-proofed, food and drink in Scotland will be well placed to build on recent success by being prepared, ready to adapt and willing to invest in a healthy future.

Fiona Maguire, chief executive, Riverside Inverclyde

Riverside Inverclyde is focusing on three core areas to future-proof the food and drink sector, namely removing barriers for manufacturers, developing skills and courses to tackle the future skills gap while seeking to capitalise on the food tourism opportunities available to Scotland.

All three are vital in supporting the regeneration of Inverclyde.

The delivery of our pioneering Baker Street food and drink incubator in spring 2019, with its associated business support, will see Inverclyde able to provide start-up and small businesses with a legitimate avenue to help turn their passion into successful businesses.

Riverside Inverclyde is collaborating with West College Scotland, DYW West, Glasgow Caledonian University and Inverclyde Council’s education department to promote food and drink career opportunities to Inverclyde residents.

Riverside Inverclyde has also launched Taste Inverclyde, a vehicle to support and promote independent eateries and bars to residents but also the 700,000 tourists that visit Inverclyde annually.

In getting these three areas right, we will provide a solid footing in our aims for Inverclyde to play an important role in the growth of the food and drink sector in Scotland.

Matthew Allan, manager, Anderson Anderson & Brown

The Scottish food and drink industry is a globally recognised brand and continuing to strengthen the brand will be key.

There will need to be collaboration from field to table and a wide variety of businesses from different sectors will all play a uniquely different role in future-proofing a growing and important industry in this country.

Businesses will need to continue to be innovative and open to new developments in technology; seeking and capitalising on opportunities both locally and internationally; and engaging early with professional advisers and the finance sector to enhance efficiencies in their processes and to assist them in understanding the relevant tax breaks which will allow them to reinvest money back into their businesses.

Iain Clunie, food and drink programme manager, Zero Waste Scotland

The food and drink industry is a major contributor to Scotland’s economy, worth around £14 billion a year. But an estimated 740,000 tonnes of food waste is generated in the sector annually. Imagine the possibilities if nothing was wasted.

Meeting Scotland’s target to reduce food waste by one third is an enormous task, but it’s achievable if we work together.

The first step is to identify the cause of food waste in your business. There could be many reasons, and therefore many solutions, and we’re here to help.

Do you effectively plan to buy in the right amount of stock, is old or poorly maintained equipment contributing to food waste and have you considered an alternative use for your by-products?

Zero Waste Scotland has helped businesses across Scotland to reduce food waste, from funding innovative technology to introducing partnerships where both parties can benefit from the “leftovers”.

Eleanor Coates, director, trade marks, Murgitroyd

The impact of Brexit on the food and drink sector in Scotland could be substantial, particularly in terms of a fall of EU workers, but there are positives.

There is opportunity to market and expand the great local produce from Scotland to the rest of the UK and potential new markets outwith the EU – intellectual property can assist with clear branding, be it through producers’ own trade marks, seeking more geographical indications (protection of a product from a particular area with known characteristics) or collective marks (where a group of producers can use the same brand indicating a quality along with their own brand to indicate produce of an association of growers or producers) – all of which inform and educate consumers of the origin and quality of food and drink.

Getting across the message of Scotland’s great produce is going to be key to future-proofing markets.

Jim McLaren, chairman, Quality Meat Scotland

In business, it is essential to focus what energy and time we have in managing and improving the things within our control.

Too often we expect someone else to come to our aid, when the amalgamation of small changes within our own control can actually lead to a major change in fortune for any business.

Therefore, worrying about Brexit, exchange rates, interest rates or even the weather is guaranteed to be a less effective use of scarce resource.

Focus should be on greater business efficiency, better customer service, product innovation or even producing more accurate budgets and cash projections.

Julie Hesketh-Laird, chief executive, Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation

As concerns are raised about Brexit’s impact on the UK’s international trade, Scottish salmon is enjoyed in more than 60 countries worldwide and generated overseas sales of more than £600 million last year. At the same time, it remains the UK shopper’s favourite fish.

A supportive business environment in Scotland is important to our continued success.

Secure and reliable transport and infrastructure, a strong supply chain and a good local workforce, allied to an ambitious UK trade policy, will help shape a future where we meet the world’s appetite for our globally renowned salmon.

I am confident that the quality, provenance and reputation of Scottish salmon, as with many other Scottish foods, will ensure that it remains highly prized.

What’s more, so much of what has helped make Scottish salmon a global success remains in our own hands here in Scotland, even as we leave the EU.

This article featured in The Scotsman’s Food & Drink special. A digital version can be viewed here.